Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Darksiders | Last Gen Regen: Forgotten Favourites

Welcome to the first article in a new, semi regular series entitled Last Gen Regen. There were tons of games released for the last generation of consoles that didn't perform as well as I think think they deserved, either crtically or financially, and I think they deserve a bit more love. Titles that fall under this category include Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the de Blob games and Binary Domain, just for starters. The reason that I'm not committing to a regular schedule is that most of these games take quite a while to complete, so I will just be releasing them as and when they are ready. This series also serves as an excuse to replay some of my favourite titles, so I will be savouring my time with them!

We begin with Darksiders - which was developed by Vigil Entertainment in the year 2010 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.  This team was assembled by legendary comic book artist Joe Madureira, whose unique art style is stamped all over the game.  While beloved by the majority of those who have played the game, there are still tons of people who have never given it a second glance.  With a remastered version on the horizon, and copies of the original version selling for just a few quid, now is the perfect time for you to pick it up for yourself if you have yet to do so. Now it's time for me to spend roughly ten minutes explaining why.

Plot and Character: 8 out of 10
The action of Darksiders revolves around the four horsemen of the apocalypse, or more specifically, War.  As the game begins, War is standing in the streets of what looks like New York city, doing battle with demons.  As you progress further into the prologue, angels will arrive on the scene as well.  Rather than the classical winged creatures that you're familiar with, angels in the Darksiders series make use of technology such as jet packs and guns.  Their halo is also a part of the armour that they wear. War is on earth because he believes the seventh seal has been broken and the riders have been called, but he was deceived by a powerful demon called The Destroyer and his minions.  After falling in battle against Straga, one of the Destroyer's lieutenants, War finds himself in front of the Charred Council, entities which act as the balance keepers between the forces of Heaven and Hell.  Displeased with Wars actions on Earth, they strip him of most of his power, before permitting him to set off on a quest for revenge against The Destroyer.  As a condition of his release, War is tethered to The Watcher, brilliantly voiced by Mark Hamill.  From there, it's up to you to restore War to his former glory, slaughter your way through The Destroyer's forces, and set things right.

While I am more than aware that there are plenty of people out there who hate fantasy nonsense like this, I absolutely love this kind of thing. While the game takes itself a bit too seriously sometimes and comes across as cheesy, for the most part it is really cool, and metal as fuck! War himself is built like a brick shithouse, with huge chunky limbs and a giant sword that you can do some serious damage with. So while it's definitely not for everyone, I really enjoyed the premise of Darksiders and the ride that it took me on during its 20 or so hour long campaign. Of course the game play had a lot to do with that as well, but I will get there all in due course!

Graphics: 8 out of 10
The chunky, American Football player proportions of War also apply to a lof of the other characters in Darksiders, from the Angels like Abaddon, to side characters like Ulthane, who belongs to a race called The Makers.  These guys heavily resemble the Norse gods like Thor, and wield mighty hammers like him as well.  While there were a few instances where the was some screen tearing and a drop in frame rate, for the most part Darksiders ran really smoothly and the environments look really nice. At one point the mixture of hack and slash combat and puzzle solving is punctured by a rather lengthy flying sequence on the back of a Pegasus, which is just one of many visually spectacular parts.  The huge golems that guard the various areas of the map are also impressive, and a sight to behold as they lumber away, shaking both the screen and your gamepad.

While there aren't that many in the game, the horsey bits in Darksiders are good fun.
Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
The audible portion of the presentation is equally as solid as the visual component, with some great noises while you're in combat and when you make use of your abilities. The music is well composed, but not particularly memorable after some time away from the game. It certainly doesn't measure up to the epic soundtrack of Darksiders II that was composed by Assassin's Creed veteran Jesper Kyd, but that is a matter for another time. The voice work in the game is generally well done again, though the dialogue that these guys have to read is incredibly melodramatic and can come across as a tad on the cheesy side at times. Still, it suits the subject matter.

Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
Darksiders plays out like a mash up of God of War and one of the 3D Legend of Zelda games, and that is no bad thing, believe me!  As your basic abilities are doled out during the opening hours of the game, you will find yourself locked inside various combat challenges where you have to kill a certain number of demons within a strict time limit and while using a certain ability or weapon.  Just as was starting to tire of this, roughly nine of so challenges in, they stop, never to return throughout the rest of the adventure.  The majority of the game is spent exploring huge dungeons, solving relatively mild puzzles, hacking up demons (and the occaisional angel) and obtaining new equipment or powers that allow access to further sections of the overworld.  While the world of Darksiders is fairly extensive and interconnected, with few noticeable load times, it is still fairly linear for the most part, with just a brief quest towards the end of the campaign giving you free reign to travel back to the various zones in any order you choose.

For most of the game the difficulty level is pitched just about right, with combat keeping you on your toes but never becoming frustrating.  You may die once or twice, but the penalty is very benign, with you just going back brief way to the nearest checkpoint. There is one dungeon close the finale that I did find really frustrating to beat, though - or rather, one puzzle within it that involved warping boxes through portals in order to raise and lower huge chandelier style platforms. I got quite annoyed by that one, but it's not even close to being as annoying as the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time, ultimately.

As you hack apart your enemies, souls will fly out of them and these can be drawn into you.  They can also be found inside chests that are liberally scattered around world, and in inanimate objects like cars, dustbins, and street lights.  These souls act your main currency in the game, and can be used to unlock new abilties and weapons, or power up those that you already have.  Speaking of weaponry, War mainly wields a huge sword, though you do also get access to a sythe, pistols, and a deadly disc launching thing.  You won't have enough souls to level everything up, so it's best to focus on whichever suits your particular play style and focus on them.  You can also find Zelda style upgrades to your health bar and rage meter hidden away all over the place, which will often be inaccessible the first time you find them.  You know what that means - come back later when you have the right ability.

This is Ulthane, one of the Makers - you will learn much more about these guys in Darksiders II.
Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
Ultimately, it's the solid game play combined with the setting that makes Darksiders such a great game, in my opinion. It's not particularly innovative, being an amalgam of several different genres, but that doesn't really matter to me. Zelda style puzzling and exploration will always be fun, and brutal hack and slash combat adds that extra spice to make it interesting.  Layer on the truly fantastic character designs and fleshed out game world, and you have something rather special on your hands.

Value and Replability: 7 out of 10
You will probably only want to play through Darksiders the one time, or maybe twice after enough time has passed by.  But that play through will last somewhere around the 25 hour range, even more if you try and hunt down every single health upgrade and the best armour in the game, which is scattered across the lands. I never felt that the game was dragging on at all, which is something that very few games get right.  The original release will probably only set you back a fiver or less, which is a real bargain.  I am not sure how much THQ Nordic is going to be asking for the HD remaster - I would guess somewhere around th £30 mark.  That's still not bad considering how much quality gameplay is on offer.  UPDATE: Since writing this article I have learned that the price of the HD remaster will be £15, which is an absolute bargain!

Overall: 8 out of 10
Xbox 360 and PS3 owners were not short of quality games to play, but there weren't many experiences that compared to the Zelda games (Okami being a notable exception). Darksiders takes the blueprint that Nintendo established, adds in a liberal dose of visceral combat, and makes the whole thing much more dark, gothic, and cool.  If the game somehow passed you by the first time it was released, then either pick up a nice and cheap copy and play it on your older system, or grab the upcoming "Warmastered" version.

Darksiders II will most definitely be getting its time in the sun at some point in the future as well, but I haven't played all the way through it yet.  Before then though, now that Lost Odyssey can be enjoyed on the Xbox One through the magic of backwards playability, I think it's time to revisit it.  It will take a while for me to finish it though, as it's absolutely massive.  To tide us over, I will try and find something a little shorter to talk about next.  I was thinking a racing game would make a nice change of pace, but which one? There's Blur from Bizarre Creations, or Split Second from Black Rock Studios.  Let me know in the comments if you have a preference, and in the meantime, take care!

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